Both Pakistan and India could have made the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 this evening. Both knew they needed to beat their respective opponents by considerable margins. India knew by exactly how many runs; Pakistan did not have any such prior information. Both sides batted first in their respective games and posted similar totals. MS Dhoni said stopping South Africa 31 runs short of India's 152 was asking too much of his attack. Mohammad Hafeez said once Pakistan had reached 149, he knew they had the attack to defend it. That was the difference between the two teams. Ability, and the resultant self-belief. Who said bowlers don't win you Twenty20 games? Pakistan's did today, overcoming an opponent whose one opener himself had proved sufficient to destroy sides throughout the tournament.
It was a staggering effort from Hafeez and his men. After Australia had swatted aside all four of their previous opponents, that Pakistan would make them struggle for their own semi-final qualification, at one stage, was almost unimaginable. But Pakistan have always delighted in the unimaginable, both good and bad. Don't go by their display against India a couple of nights ago. That was a game played under a completely different kind of pressure, the kind that has, in recent years, only stopped Pakistan sides from playing like Pakistan sides. The kind of pressure on offer today was right up their street. In a way, it forced them to play the way they love to in such must-win situations - start steadily with the bat, build up some momentum, and then attack with the ball.
Once they had got almost 150, one knew the Pakistan bowlers and fielders would be nearly unrecognisable from the match against India. What one wasn't prepared for was the sheer, raw, brutal intensity of it. It seemed to shatter the thick glass wall of the press box and rouse you.
Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul, both men no longer young, threw themselves onto the ball in the field. They were more than mere full-length dives. They were akin to big cats pouncing on prey. Legs pointing to the sky, hands coming down on the ball as their bodies crashed into the turf.
Hafeez, strangely subdued and hesitant against India, was itching to bowl the first delivery of the chase, shouting instructions even before the Australia innings had begun. Raza Hasan, all of 20, but with skills and maturity far more advanced, began with four dot balls to Shane Watson. The suffocation had started. Watson fell in Hasan's next over. Warner followed in Hafeez's next, the first time in the tournament both men had gone cheaply.
"We knew that 70-80% of Australia's strength at the moment is their openers and Mike Hussey," Hafeez said. "We wanted to get two of them early and their middle-order had not been tested in this tournament. We were very sure because in Dubai, our spinners had troubled their middle-order. We knew if we got Watson and Warner, we had the attack that would put them under pressure."
Hafeez, Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Afridi, Shoaib Malik. The spinners just kept coming at Australia, who were stunned by the juggernaut, and had no answer. When Pakistan batted, Nasir Jamshed was the answer to their need for stability at 29 for 2. How he moved from accumulation to attack, after a few initial jitters, how he changed the momentum of the innings with a full-blooded thump of a pull for six off Pat Cummins, how he combined calm and power again, was another reminder of Jamshed's maturity at 22. Hafeez praised both Jamshed and Hasan.
"I have always had belief as captain in the talent of these two youngsters, and the selectors too backed them," Hafeez said. "Jamshed has shown in ODIs that he is an excellent opener for Pakistan technically and Hasan has always performed his role in domestic cricket. We knew that whenever we brought Hasan into the team and gave him any role, with his talent and his maturity, he would fulfil it."